Prospective tenants were queuing up outside a historic Brooklyn building last weekend to view two dreamy, sunlit one-bedroom apartments with outdoor spaces and period details. The catch? If your application is accepted (and you have either $5,750 or $4,500 to drop on rent every month), you can’t cook any meat or fish in your future home.
Though it’s not stipulated on the Douglass Elliman website advertising the two apartments, The New York Times noticed an unusual rule set by the “wonderful vegan landlord” on a nextdoor.com listing that’s since been taken down: Tenants can eat all the take-out sushi and fried chicken they like, but they can never grill a steak or fry bacon.
Motti Lerer, who co-owns the Fort Greene building and hasn’t eaten meat in 34 years, tells me the rule has been in place since he and his ex-wife—who is also vegan and still lives on the top floor—bought it in 2007. After he moved into their other building, he also requested that those tenants not cook meat or fish. “For me, it’s very simple,” he says. “I can’t stand the smell of carcasses being cooked.” Both of the buildings owned by the pair are old, and don’t “have the greatest ventilation,” says Lerer.
Though it’s unconventional, landlord policies like this one aren’t unheard of. In 2015, a Washington landlord was supposedly offering discounts to applicants who didn’t eat meat, according to Vice. And in 2018, a landlord in the UK was supposedly banning vegans from applying to live in his spare room.
While landlords in New York City can’t discriminate against applicants based on 14 characteristics, such as age, race, or source of income, it’s perfectly legal to ban your tenants from flipping hamburgers or roasting entire chickens—just as one might not allow cigarette smoking. Absent some sort of medical condition requiring “reasonable accommodation” by the landlord, New York Law School professor Lucas A. Ferrara told the Times that “the restriction would otherwise be permissible.”
As a vegetarian myself, I’ll admit that a part of me felt sort of avenged seeing this Brooklyn landlord’s rule. For some people that don’t eat it, the smell of meat can be intense—like burnt blood. After chatting with prospective tenants, the Times reported that those who showed up to view the apartment didn’t seem bothered by the no-meat rule. But the reactions online have been a mixed bag, with some folks equating it to disallowing pets and others thinking the rule is discriminatory and a major breach of personal freedoms. Meat consumption is a sensitive subject, after all, that people build whole lifestyles and identities around.
Of course, this is what a landlord would say, but Lerer tells me the requirement has never been a problem for his tenants—nor made it difficult to rent the apartment. He says it’s never been his goal to change the way his tenants think about food: “I’m not going to try to convince people to become vegan.” But, he says, some renters have seen the restriction as an opportunity to cut back on their meat consumption, and many of those who did eat meat ordered a lot of takeout anyway.